BEIJING — Avicopter is looking at outsourcing production to low-cost countries, even though most of its rivals would regard the Chinese rotorcraft company as already well placed to avoid high manufacturing outlays.
Part of national aeronautics conglomerate Avic, Avicopter has two core aims, says President Wang Bin: to meet 25% of Chinese domestic demand for civil helicopters by 2015, and 15% of global civil and military demand by 2020. Avicopter builds all of China’s military helicopters, with established plants at Harbin, Jingdezhen (Changhe Aircraft), Baoding and a new one at Tianjin, where it has its headquarters.
“The international objective is to build a multinational company,” Wang tells International Aviation, the Chinese partner magazine of Aviation Week. “In developing our aircraft, we will seek to use global resources, and in building them we will put emphasis on high-value-added products and technology while transferring some low-value-added items to low-cost economies.” He gave neither a time frame nor examples of countries that might be able to make parts more cheaply than China can.
While trying to shrink the general technology gap between itself and established competitors, Avicopter will specifically try to increase helicopter speed and reduce noise and environmental impact.
Executives from competing companies are quick to recognize the rapid progress that Avicopter is making as it works to build a family of helicopters with gross weights ranging from 1 to 13 tons, plus a very large rotorcraft of 30 tons that is earmarked as a Sino-Russian project for 2016-20. Among Avicopter’s continuing drawbacks is the shortness of maintenance intervals for its dynamics, rivals say.
The Chinese company is flight testing two new models: the AC310 piston-engine helicopter of 1 ton and the AC311, which has a singleLTS101-700D2 turbine engine, a gross weight of 2.2 tons, and forecast sales of 100 a year. The latter follows the configuration of the AS350 Squirrel, which Avicopter builds as the AC301, but the company says it has independently developed its aircraft.
While the exact connection between the European and Chinese helicopters is unclear, it seems likely that the designers of the latter have at least closely referred to the design of the former. The tail booms of the two aircraft are externally more similar than the forward fuselages are.
Certification is due this year and deliveries next year, with sales of 500 over 10 years forecast. The urban police forces of Guizhou and the Binhai district of Tianjin have ordered one each. Avicopter is based in Binhai and is partly owned by Tianjin.
Avicopter Vice President Xia Qunlin has said that the company is looking at a helicopter of about 10 tons. Something in the range of 9-10 tons is possible, says Qiu Guangrong, director of Avicopter’s research and design institute in Jingdezhen.
“China is still lagging behind developed foreign countries in integration capability, rotorcraft technology and problem-solving in engineering,” Qiu says.
The three-engine AC313, based on the French Super Frelon (which was built in China as the Z-8), is also in flight testing, so the Civil Aviation Authority of China is handling the certification of three helicopters at once. While the AC313 is not completely new, it is heavily updated from its predecessor, with new main and tail rotors, Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-67A turboshafts and a composite fuselage.
One AC313 test aircraft set an altitude record for Chinese-built helicopters on Sept. 2 by exceeding an altitude of 8,000 meters (26,250 ft.) in a flight aimed at proving the fuel, lubrication and hydraulic systems. The aircraft performed the feat at a mass of 9.2 tons (20,300 lb.), compared with a designed gross weight of 13.8 tons. Improved performance in hot and high conditions is one of the design objectives.